MONTREAL—Charlie Lindgren finds himself in a precarious position.
The Montreal Canadiens goaltender is ready for prime time, but there doesn’t appear to be a job currently available to him in the NHL.
With Carey Price the face of the franchise and with Al Montoya inked to a two-year, $2.1 million contract to warm the bench for somewhere between 60-65 games per season, the only way Lindgren will get his crack in the big leagues this year is if one of them goes down, if Montoya proves incapable of filling in, or if Lindgren gets traded.
And the last scenario is highly unlikely.
Though Lindgren represents the best trade chip Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin currently owns, he’s too important to the team to be traded. His signing out of St. Cloud University was made two springs ago to bolster the team’s depth at the position—and it came right as the Canadiens were wrapping up a season that saw Price miss all but 12 games with a knee injury while his backups failed to provide any type of stability in his absence.
Since then, Lindgren has collected wins in all three of his NHL contests and managed a 24-18-1 record, a .914 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average in his first AHL season in 2016-17.
He got off to a tremendous start at this year’s training camp and was slated to take the net against a loaded Toronto Maple Leafs team this past Monday before he suffered an injury to his oblique muscle during his pre-game routine.
"I did a leg-kick and thought I ripped it," the goaltender said after making 22 saves in Montreal’s first pre-season win on Friday—a 3-1 outcome versus the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre that pushed their record to 1-6-0. "I was so pissed. I’ve never been hurt before, but I thought something was really wrong. I actually left the rink on crutches Monday. I didn’t fall asleep before 2:00 a.m., I was in terrible pain, and then I woke up six hours later and thankfully was able to get up and walk to the bathroom without any problems."
Lindgren was back on the ice Thursday, and he showcased his full value on Friday night.
He made a kick save on an opening-period breakaway by Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck as the best one of his night, but he made several others that stood out. There was a right-pad save on Aaron Ekblad, a glove save on Jonathan Huberdeau, and two stops in tight on Radim Vrbata that showed off his flexibility and his competitiveness.
They were quality saves on quality players.
"That’s exactly what I want is playing against the best guys," said Lindgren. "I go back to Monday night, obviously Toronto had a great lineup, and like I said I was really disappointed I didn’t get to play that game. But it was nice to see Florida’s lineup, who they had, because I wanted to play against the best."
In an ideal scenario, Lindgren would be doing that more often than not in the NHL.
But he’s going to have to wait for that chance.
"Charlie Lindgren is the goalie he is today because he played a lot last year," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. "I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind that he’ll play in this league. He’s that good. So it’s just a matter of when.
"Some goaltenders are good when they play a lot," Julien continued. "Some goaltenders, sometimes when they don’t play as much it’s tough. What [Montoya] has to go through during the season is not easy. He has to practice hard every day and watch the No. 1 goaltender play a lot of games, so it’s not an easy job. Charlie hasn’t been necessarily in that position yet; he’s always been in position to play."
Lindgren will see a lot of action with the Laval Rocket, and as Julien mentioned on Friday his proximity to Montreal will be a benefit for the Canadiens, who can call on him at any time.
"There’s no doubt in my mind he can come in and win games for us," said Canadiens forward Paul Byron, who scored two of Montreal’s three goals on Friday. "With Carey Price in net, I don’t know what the situation is being a backup. But the kid’s gotta play. He’s great."
You hope for Lindgren’s sake that process unfolds in the NHL in the near future.